After playing a combined 17 minutes in five appearances this season, senior Blake Smith got her moment in Ball State Women’s Basketball (18-11, 11-8 MAC) 92-58 win against Eastern Michigan (7-20, 4-16 MAC) March 5.
With two minutes and 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Smith scored a layup for her first points of the season and Worthen Arena exploded in cheers. A few possessions later, Smith hit a 3-pointer causing The Nest to erupt.
“I had so much adrenaline when I made that,” Smith said. “Seeing and hearing the crowd is going to be one of the best memories I take with me.”
Junior Sydney Freeman scored 16 points and registered seven assists, seven rebounds and four steals. Freeman said the Cardinals wanted to win for Smith.
“I think it gave us motivation to want to play as hard as we could for Blake,” Freeman said. “It was her last time playing here and our last time playing here this season, so I think it was a push for us.”
Smith started her first game since Jan. 2, 2021, and finished with five points and one rebound in 12 minutes. Smith admitted she felt anxious about starting but said her performance exceeded her expectations.
“It was my first time starting a game since junior year so I was definitely a little nervous, but once I got out there it felt back to normal,” Smith said. “Being on the court with all my favorite people is something I couldn’t dream up.”
Head coach Brady Sallee doesn't always start seniors on Senior Day but said Smith earned the start because of how acceptive she was towards her reduced role this season.
“I felt like Blake deserved today,” Sallee said. “She’s been so selfless all year. She talked about today exceeding her expectations, she’s exceeded mine all season.”
Sallee said although he’s been through countless Senior Days, this stuck out to him because of Smith's journey and the reaction from the Cardinals and Worthen Arena crowd.
“She’s talking about remembering this the rest of her life, I’ll remember it the rest of mine,” Sallee said. “I can guarantee it wasn’t always easy, but there’s always a smile and her teammates come first for her.”
Senior Thelma Dis Agustsdottir scored a season-high 24 points today while chipping in eight rebounds. Junior Annie Rauch added 12 points and graduate transfer Chyna Latimer contributed 11 points.
The Eagles placed three players in double-digit scoring, paced by 14 points from freshman guard Lachelle Austin.
Ball State enters the MAC Tournament as the No. 5 seed and Sallee said the Cardinal's last two wins have established momentum.
“I think you want to feel good going up there,” Sallee said. “This is the day and age of feelings, so when those are in a good place, that’s a good thing.”
Sallee said the biggest factor to postseason success for the Cardinals is their commitment to winning. Although Ball State and other MAC schools have spring break next week, Sallee said he thinks the Cardinals wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I think it’s important to go up there with a team that wants to be there,” Sallee said. “You have some programs who would rather be sitting on a beach doing keg stands and all that, but I genuinely think this group wants to be there [in Cleveland].”
The Cardinals return to action against No. 4 Northern Illinois in the first round of the MAC Tournament March 9 in Cleveland, Ohio. Tipoff is 1:30 p.m.
Contact Kyle Smedley with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @smedley1932.